The string of "supermoons" over the summer has kept our local natural satellite in the news lately, but a supermoon is a hyperbolic name for something that is hardly perceptible. However, we do have a truly spectacular lunar sight in the near future: a total lunar eclipse. We already had one total lunar eclipse, in April, and having a second one in any calendar year is somewhat unusual. But since we hadn't had any good lunar eclipses in recent years, the average of one every other year or so seems to be working out.
This lunar eclipse begins before 4:00 a.m. (all times cited here are a.m. CDT) on the morning of Wednesday 8 October. But that earliest stage, called the penumbral eclipse, is nearly imperceptible. The real action begins with the partial eclipse at 4:15 when the disk of the full moon enters the darker part of the shadow of the Earth, called the umbra. Beginning at that time, the umbra will become evident on the lunar surface and progressively engulf it until the lunar disk is completely immersed in shadow by 5:24, when the "total" phase of the eclipse begins (as shown in the figure above). For about the next hour, the Moon will cross the umbra, reaching its deepest immersion at 5:55. The total phase will end at 6:25 as the Moon's disk begins to exit the umbra, but the Moon will have passed well below our horizon before it completely exits the umbra at 7:35.
During the entire eclipse, the Moon will be descending in our western sky, and by the late stages will be very low on the horizon; a mere 7 degrees by the time the total phase ends. So to observe as much of it as possible, it will be advisable to find an observing site with a very low western horizon.
At mid-eclipse we might be treated to the dull reddish glow of the lunar disk immersed in the Earth's umbra. The amount of redness depends upon the properties of the Earth's atmosphere at the time of the eclipse and is therefore hard to predict. At its reddest we sometimes hear the phrase "blood moon" used to describe it, but a copper-colored brownish red is more typical. The only way to find out what it will be is to go out and take a look. It's a great photo opportunity, and we can generally expect clear weather in October. It's also a great time to get out binoculars or a small telescope. Below is a summary of the times (for Madison) of the important moments in the upcoming eclipse.
4:15 Partial eclipse begins (All times CDT on 8 Oct 2014)
5:24 Total eclipse begins
6:25 Total eclipse ends
6:33 Civil twilight begins
7:35 Partial eclipse ends